India & Sri Lanka - Fall 2013 travel blog

As we have prepared for this lengthy and costly trip, we have encountered a number of negative reactions from friends and acquaintances, mostly people who have never gone much of anywhere. India seems to need an image consultant, a spin doctor, a PR rep. Yes, we are expecting to see poverty like we never see it at home. At times the traffic will be unbearable; there will be noise, heat, bugs, and dirt. The trains will not run on time. But to write off an entire country which has contributed to the world's culture for thousands of years, because of the possibility that we may feel uncomfortable or disconcerted at times, would be to miss out on a unique part of the world.

Although we generally do not like tours and prefer to plan trips ourselves, we decided to use the services of Overseas Adventure Travel for this trip. Many people in India speak English and we would have probably gotten to where we wanted to go on our own, but the experience that OAT provides is more than worth the cost in efficiency and breadth of experience. We loved our OAT trip to Turkey. It was a nice mix of tourist high points with free time and included a variety of experiences. Their philosophy to give back to the communities they bring travelers to is also appealing. On this trip we will visit schools, orphanages, and people's homes, not just museums and temples. The promise of small groups of no more than sixteen, another plus.

We have prepared as best we could for all the concerns raised by our worried friends. We consulted a travel doctor (travel medicine is not covered by insurance) and got the recommended Hepatitis A and typhoid medication. Booster shots for polio were also recommended to geezers like us who got their first polio shots over fifty years ago, but there has been no polio in India for two years. We demurred. We have malaria pills to bring along and antibiotics just in case. We will bring a Steripen that uses UV light to sterilize a liter of water in less than a minute. But when we look up information on the spectacular hotels OAT has reserved for us, we are left wondering if all this is really necessary. For the first time we will be wearing special travel stockings, designed to prevent the deep vein thrombosis that hours and hours of sitting still on a plane can cause. The flight to South Africa took just as long and we had no problems then, but we aren't getting any younger. Travel stockings it is.

Americans who are used to traveling hundreds of miles without a passport, can be taken aback by visa requirements. The visa for Sir Lanka was a piece of cake; an electronic application brought swift approval. It's really just a revenue generator. OAT offered a visa provider for India, but the fees were high and we are lucky to live near Chicago where most countries have consulates. We made an appointment online, which was an exercise in futility and sat in the waiting room for over an hour watching the soap opera as many potential travelers brought all manner of sad stories to the staff. One couple's mother had died visiting India, her homeland, and they were not only getting visas for themselves to bring her back but the permits for moving a body. Another very young couple who were going to India to be missionaries obviously had not read the fine print on the website. They had to leave and come back twice before they had the required documentation and cash. A family whose flight was a few days away were shocked to learn that visa processing takes at least a week. Much discussion ensured, but they left empty handed. I've read that when the bureaucracy loving British occupied India, they felt quite at home since the Indians share their love of paperwork and forms. When it finally was our turn, processing us took no time at all and in a week our passports with visa attached appeared in the mailbox as promised.

Hopefully, this is a good time of year to travel to India when it comes to the weather. But it is a big country and in the 46 days we will be in the subcontinent conditions could vary. Most OAT customers travel northern and southern India separately, but our feeling was - why take that long flight twice? The pretrip to Sir Lanka and a few extra days for the Pushkar camel festival added to the trip length. Initially, it seemed like we would be able to do a good job seeing it all, but as we have studied and tried to learn more, it is apparent that we will only be scratching the surface of this varied country. Our biggest complaint is the luggage limitations. Because the itinerary includes some internal flights, we are limited to 33 pounds in one suitcase. People who travel by motor home and bring their whole house with them have a tough time traveling light. Here's hoping that my meager clothing supply includes the right sort of clothing. And Ken's technology requirements find him already closer to 40 pounds and not yet finished packing. We'll have plenty of chances to see how strict those weight requirements really are.

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